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Nanodiamonds enhance paper-based diagnostic testing

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A study conducted by the University College London has shown that we can detect viruses earlier by exploiting nanodiamonds’ quantum properties to make paper-based diagnostic testing more sensitive.

The innovation could pave the way for viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and HIV to be detected earlier.

Paper-based diagnostic testing works the same way pregnancy tests work, by soaking a strip of paper in a liquid and waiting for a fluorescent signal or a color transformation to denote positive results, or the presence of virus proteins.

England is already piloting lateral flow testing for Covid-19 which deliver immediate results as they do not require laboratory processing. Lateral flow testing is popular for detecting viruses like HIV.

HIV tests lateral flow tests utilize gold nanoparticles which are not as sensitive as nanodiamonds which are capable of detecting much lower viral loads than gold nanoparticles. If this is widely accepted, it will become possible to detect viruses much earlier and reduce the risk of transmission.

“Our proof-of-concept study shows how quantum technologies can be used to detect ultralow levels of virus in a patient sample, enabling much earlier diagnosis,” explained Professor Rachel McKendry, lead author of the Nature study. “We have focused on the detection of HIV, but our approach is very flexible and can be easily adapted to other diseases and biomarker types.

“We are working on adapting our approach to Covid-19. We believe that this transformative new technology will benefit patients and protect populations from infectious diseases.”

The study leveraged the quantum properties of nanodiamonds that carried a defect which creates a nitrogen-vacancy center (NV). These NV centers can be used for fluorescent biomarking which enables ultrasensitive imaging, quantum computing, information processing, and other applications.

The NV centers emit fluorescent lights which indicate the presence of target molecules. Nano diamonds’ quantum properties allow this signal to be set to its own unique frequency that separates it from background fluorescence.

What the UCL research has shown is that it is possible to improve the sensitivity of a HIV test by 100,000 times. A 10-minte temperature amplification which multiplies HIV RNA copies made it possible to detect HIV in a single molecule within the sample.

“Paper-based lateral flow tests with gold nanoparticles do not require laboratory analysis, making them particularly useful in low-resource settings and where access to healthcare is limited. They are low cost, portable, and user friendly” said lead author Dr. Ben Miller.

He added: “However, these tests currently lack the sensitivity to detect very low levels of biomarkers. By replacing commonly used gold nanoparticles with fluorescent nanodiamonds in this new design, and selectively modulating their (already bright) emission of light, we have been able to separate their signal from the unwanted background fluorescence of the test strip, dramatically improving sensitivity.”

The researchers have now moved on to trying to adjust the same technology to develop a rapid testing for other diseases, including Covid-19. If they can create a hand-held testing device allowing the technique to work even in poorly resourced locations, the innovation will be ready to scale.

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A New Era Diagnosing Parkinson’s

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Scientists are on the verge of introducing a cheaper, faster, and completely painless test for Parkinson’s.

The researchers based at the University of Manchester said the new test which is already in sight, will herald a new era in diagnosing Parkinson’s disease.

A research paper published in the journal Nature Communications details the researchers’ findings that demonstrate hope in a new way of diagnosing Parkinson’s that is simple and painless – a skin swab.

The test examines compounds in the skin’s natural oil called sebum which is not the same in people who have Parkinson’s.  Sebum is a protective oily layer on human skin.

“We believe that our results are an extremely encouraging step towards tests that could be used to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s,” explained University of Manchester Prof Perdita Barran.

“Not only is the test quick, simple and painless but it should also be extremely cost-effective because it uses existing technology that is already widely available.

“We are now looking to take our findings forwards to refine the test to improve accuracy even further and to take steps towards making this a test that can be used in the NHS and to develop more precise diagnostics and better treatment for this debilitating condition.”

The team worked with 500 sebum samples. All of them were extracted from people’s upper backs. Some of the subjects had Parkinson’s and some did not.

The scientists used mass spectrometry to isolate 10 chemical compounds that become reduced or elevated when the person has Parkinson’s.

They could diagnose people with Parkinson’s with an accuracy of 85%.

Because Parkinson’s takes so long to progress, it can take years for people to visit a doctor because the symptoms don’t become noticeable for years.

Specialists use a DaTscan to see whether the brain is losing dopamine-producing brain cells. This means that a patient is developing Parkinson’s disease.

The trouble is that there are other, more rare neurological conditions that cause the same loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. This makes the Parkinson’s diagnoses more complicated.

Around a quarter of people living with Parkinson’s in the UK were misdiagnosed with something else first, according to a survey of more than 2,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK.

56-year-old Daxa Kalayci is a Leicester native who has known that she was living with Parkinson’s since her diagnosis in September 2019. In the four years before that that, Kalayci had been misdiagnosed several times over.

“This test could be a game-changer for people living with Parkinson’s and searching for answers, like I was,” she quipped.

“I am so happy with this news because it will mean that in future people won’t have to experience the anxiety of multiple appointments, long waiting times and sleepless nights.

“The sooner this test is available, the better. Anything that can help people looking for a diagnosis is a bonus.”

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Scientists will Soon spot Diseases and find exoplanets with super Tiny photonic devices

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Researchers working in Sweden have created a microcomb capable of detecting diseases faster and making optical communications systems more efficient, among other exciting applications.

The scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have built the photonic device (microcomb) with the capability to produce optical frequencies on a micro resonator – a minute optical cavity.

Effectively, the microcomb is like a ruler of light that measures frequencies with extreme accuracy.

The microcomb generates an array of optical frequencies whose colors are evenly distributed, making it more or less a ruler of light that measures and produces frequencies with extreme accuracy.

The researchers used a chip to develop a new microcomb based on two micro resonators instead of one. The interaction between the two micro resonators is similar to atoms that bind together to create a diatomic molecule known as a photonic molecule.

The microcomb is a device that is readable and capable of being tuned as well as being replicated into something multiple times more efficient than the best devices available at the moment.

The results are extremely significant. “The reason why the results are important is that they represent a unique combination of characteristics, in terms of efficiency, low-power operation and control, that are unprecedented in the field,” explained PhD candidate Óskar Bjarki Helgason.

This is by no means the first time that scientists have created a microcomb on a chip, but it is definitely the first time that scientists have deployed a second micro resonator to beat many of the limitations that have never been surmounted before.

The arrangement has created a number of unique characteristics. The microcomb is so small that it can sit on the tip of a human hair and leaves relatively wide gaps between its teeth.

These wide teeth mean that engineers and researchers have massive opportunities to explore the possibilities.

The microcomb is capable of making optical communication systems vastly more efficient by replacing many lasers with a single microcomb placed in data centers.

The microcombs have great potential for use in lidar to power self-driving vehicles where they can be deployed to record distances, or to calibrate spectrographs deployed in astronomical observations.

Microcombs are also ideal for making optical clocks more accurate as well as improving health monitoring apps in mobile phones, and increasing the accuracy of diagnostic tests that rely on analyzing exhaled air.

“For the technology to be practical and find its use outside the lab, we need to co-integrate additional elements with the micro resonators, such as lasers, modulators, and control electronics,” explained Dr Victor Torres-Company, who is in charge of the Ultrafast Photonics Laboratory at Chalmers University. “This is a huge challenge, that requires maybe five to 10 years and an investment in engineering research, but I am convinced that it will happen.

“The most interesting advances and applications are the ones that we have not even conceived of yet. This will likely be enabled by the possibility of having multiple microcombs on the same chip. What could we achieve with tens of microcombs that we cannot do with one?”

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Patients could Start to Monitor their Vision Remotely from Home

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Top UK eye hospital tests smartphone app for monitoring vision.

A unique pilot study by the top eye hospital in the UK will see patients remotely monitor their vision while they are on lockdown at home.

The app is meant for patients whose macula is affected by diseases. These diseases include AMD (age-related macular degeneration), degenerative myopia, and diabetes.

With the Home Vision Monitor, patients can keep on monitoring their vision without having to go to hospital. The 350 plus patients involved in the pilot study are undergoing treatment from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

A ‘shape discrimination’ test enables the app to work by displaying many shapes. Patients look at the screen and select shapes.

The results of the self-administered test instantly relay to a Moorfields Eye Hospital clinician, and this saves patients a trip to the hospital. The testing happens twice every week.

The clinician automatically receives an alert when the test reveals that the eye health of the patient has worsened. The clinician will be in a position to choose an intervention. This will enable clinicians to act earlier to stop diseases from progressing and hopefully achieve better outcomes.

After surveying app users, the hospital concluded that the app was easy to use for 93% of patients. 70% felt assured that they were regularly monitoring their vision in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Patients usually test their vision at scheduled in-person eye exams at an interval of 4-12 weeks.

“Exciting new digital technologies, such as Home Vision Monitor, will further empower our patients to actively contribute to the management of their condition, in partnership with their clinicians to achieve the best possible outcomes,” explained consultant ophthalmic surgeon Konstantinos Balaskas. “Placing such tools in the hands of patients will both improve health outcomes for patients and reduce the capacity pressures of hospital-based eye departments.”

Roche global head of ophthalmology Jill Hopkins said: “Supporting such a high-risk group is essential during these extraordinary times. By testing patients’ vision more frequently and at home, the app may eliminate unnecessary hospital visits and escalate urgent cases where needed.”

“We believe that solutions such as these can continue to support patients and healthcare professionals beyond Covid-19 and contribute to the generation of real-world evidence to identify progression trends in AMD,” she continued.

Research has already shown that AI tools accurately detect chronic eye disease in diabetes patients, and these findings show that it is possible to reduce the human labor involved in detecting these eye diseases by as much as 50%.

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